Visiting every single nation in the world is the dream of every true explorer, but no easy feat to achieve. Yet Cassie de Pecol did just that. Over the course of 18 months she trail-blazed her way around the world, smashing two world records in the process and becoming a prominent campaigner for world peace and sustainability.
You really cannot beat a proper dose of inspiration. And doing this podcast has brought me in touch with some of the most inspiring people I’ve met in my life so far! From Louis Cole (who circumnavigated the globe) to Damian Brown (solo row across the Atlantic), there seems to be no end to people’s determination and perseverance. For this week’s podcast episode, I’ve gone and spoken to a woman who holds two very impressive world records. She’s not only the fastest person to visit all 196 countries in the world, but also the first documented woman to do so as well.
It’s fair to say that Cassie De Pecol hasn’t gone on an adventure – she went on to complete a true odyssey. I just had to know more about this mammoth undertaking, which is why I went ahead to have a chat with her on my podcast to see just how she did it.
Just in case you’re not aware, here’s a little bit of background information about Cassie De Pecol’s mind-blowing achievement.
Cassie De Pecol hails from the US state of Connecticut. Her passion for travel was evident from the start – her university studies took her to 6 states across the US as well as 3 other countries, and once she was finished she went off on a 2-year adventure to 25 different countries, using funds that she saved up from a lifeguard job. During her time on the road she was working hard, doing everything from helping out in hostels to even consulting hotels on how to become more sustainable.
She returned to the US at 23, and she knew straight away that she had been bitten by the travel bug. She had an appetite to head off on another big trip, but this time she wanted to really use this time away from home to make a real impact. And what bigger adventure could there be by visiting every single country in the world?
And thus, the Expedition 196 was born. The goal: to not only travel around the world in the fastest time, but to also raise awareness for environmental and humanitarian issues. The mammoth trip was endorsed by the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism, a not-for-profit organisation which seeks to utilise tourism as a means of promoting dialogue and understanding between the peoples of the world. During her travels she met with thousands of school children and students as well as mayors and tourism ministers to discuss what peace means to them and their ideas of making tourism more sustainable and responsible.
Preparation for the Expedition 196
The preparation for the Expedition 196 was almost as much of a colossal undertaking as the trip itself. I used to find it a bit stressful trying to get the paperwork sorted out for just one visa – but imagine trying to get dozens sorted out at the same time!
Planning this around-the-world trip was a process that too Cassie a year and a half to do. Extensive networking had to be arranged in order to secure funding and sponsorships. A website had to be made, social media campaigns set up – and let’s not forget researching the actual requirements of the record itself!
What I also found particularly interesting was that Cassie also took the time to learn self-defence skills. Unfortunately is the worry that a destination might not be particularly safe for a solo female traveller, especially when it comes to having to deal with harassment. This is where learning some self-defence techniques can be a huge confidence boost, even if you never really end up using them! As part of her preparations, Cassie trained in a form of martial arts called krav maga, yet I believe that any form of self-defence is a valuable tool for any solo traveller. Obviously you don’t need to have a black belt in kung-fu before you set off on your adventures, but even just knowing that you can fend for yourself in a pinch definitely gives you some peace of mind when you’re far away from your home turf.
When a trip takes you through 196 countries and seven continents, you can imagine that there are countless highs and lows along the way. The Expedition 196 certainly had its difficult moments too. Perhaps the most hair-raising of all was visiting Turkmenistan. It was the second-to-last country on Cassie’s itinerary, with only Yemen left to visit. Yet it was the country’s strict visa requirements that almost jeopardised the entire expedition. Turkmenistan has incredibly strict border controls and one of the world’s most difficult visas to obtain, with almost 50% of transit visas being rejected and even less of a chance for US citizens to be successful. I can’t even begin to imagine the stress that Cassie must’ve gone through. Imagine you’ve spent years of your life preparing intensely for a trip of this magnitude. You make it to the final stretch with just two countries to go – and yet there’s the very real chance that you have to forfeit the attempt and simply go home.
Another rocky moment for Cassie was her visit to Cuba. American credit cards aren’t accepted there, which means for many US travellers that they have to bring cash with them to the destination. Unfortunately Cassie was left short-changed as she tried to check in to the hotel (and pay the taxi driver too!). Essentially left with no money on hand, Cassie was left in a situation which is probably everyone’s worst travel nightmare!
But it’s like the old adage goes – every cloud has a silver lining. The taxi driver that Cassie owed money to was incredibly generous, allowing her to stay the night in his own family house and even giving up their bed for Cassie to sleep in. It’s the moments like that which make travel a way of life for so many people. Being able to experience that wonderful generosity and warmth no matter where in the world you are speaks volumes about human nature and it helps to break many preconceptions we may have without realising.
Future plans – and advice for solo travellers
So, once you’ve visited every country in the world, is there still anything left for you to explore? Cassie certainly thinks so. In fact she has her sights set on the stars – quite literally! She’s been accepted into the Virgin Galactic space programme, which seeks to make commercial suborbital spaceflights a reality.
Cassie is also taking the time to build upon her personal projects and her second passion: athletics. Since a young age she’s been keeping fit, but she waits to take part in one of the famous Ironman triathlons, after already having completed the Ironman 70.3 already. She is also putting time into Her International, a charity she founded in 2017. From scholarships for schoolgirls to providing basic education to mentally challenged females in Nepal, Her International is constantly looking for ways to empower disadvantaged women across the world and opening up to them a whole new world of opportunities.
As for all you solo travellers out there, Cassie had some fantastic advice to share. Setting off on any substantial solo adventure brings with it many worries. From risking job security to even simply leaving your friends and family for an extended period of time, there are many fears and uncertainties that you have to grapple with. Let that fear fuel you! “Everything is a risk,” said Cassie. “But you have to know how much you want it; then you have to step outside yourself and just go for it.”
Listen to the interview over at the Gurucast!
Just when I think I’ve maxed out on motivation, another podcast guest comes along and leaves me speechless with what they’ve achieved! For female solo travellers in particular, Cassie De Pecol is a wonderful role model, but no matter your gender she’s a brilliant example of what happens when you just put your mind to it and let nothing get in the way.
Be sure to take a listen to my interview with Cassie over at my podcast – it was a pleasure chatting to her and I’m certain that it’s going to really inspire that wanderlust. You can listen to it on Soundcloud, iTunes, or even over at YouTube too. :)